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Opposite Way

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2008 1 Feb
Opposite Way
Sounds like … the same sort of anthemic Brit pop/rock offered by Phil Wickham, Telecast, Coldplay, and DeliriousAt a glance … Opposite Way is in many ways a superior album to Sound of Melodies, though it lacks variety and the same sort of high points found on Leeland's first albumTrack Listing Count Me In Let It Out Now Enter This Temple Opposite Way Wake Up Beginning and the End Brighter Days Falling for You Don't Go Away Thief in the Night May Our Praise

Buzz for Leeland started months before the release of their debut Sound of Melodies, and has only continued in the 18 months since. Fellow recording artists can't help but gush, including Michael W. Smith (who collaborated heavily with lead singer Leeland Mooring for his Stand album, and is also now the proud father-in-law of keyboardist Jack Mooring). Additionally, Leeland recently opened on tour for Casting Crowns—only the most popular band in Christian music today—and earned a Grammy nomination for Best Pop/Contemporary Gospel Album. Even our readers have been passionate; I've never received so many e-mails complaining that four out of five stars is an unfair review!

All of that in less than 2 years; not bad for a band whose members' ages range from 19 to 24. Yet Leeland already seems to have grown more mature and polished on their follow-up Opposite Way. Their writing has grown more collaborative between members, their musicianship more experienced, with a sophisticated Brit rock style that sounds older than what you would expect of a band this young. Leeland Mooring continues to impress as a vocalist, too, reminiscent of a young Phil Keaggy crossed with Keane's Tom Chaplin.

Leeland has described this album as more message-oriented and less focused on corporate worship. I'm not so sure Sound of Melodies was all that corporate, or that Opposite Way is any less worshipful, since both albums mix together vertical songs to the Lord and horizontal songs sung to others. But if there's a running theme to Opposite Way, it's a call to live differently from the world, reflecting the band's desire to change their generation and remind their peers not to let conformity influence their faith.

Naturally, the title track is the most passionate and purposeful example of this, speaking to the tedium and anxiety felt by some youth: "Living in the same town for all these years/Doing the same old things, hanging with the same crowd/And it starts to get crippling … but something's different today/You want to run the opposite way." From there it effectively points to Jesus as the ultimate example of radical living, as does "Let It Out Now" with its declaration of faith: "I'm drawing the line between being them or being me/I'm not ashamed to call myself one of Yours, Lord." There are songs about the willingness to be used by God ("Count Me In") and showing love to the world ("Wake Up"), while "Don't Go Away" captures the excitement of a newly changed heart burning for Jesus after a mountaintop experience: "First comes salvation, then comes obsession/Fire starts with a flicker and consumes me."

There's nothing quite as strong as last album's "Sound of Melodies" and "Tears of the Saints," though the ballad "Enter This Temple" comes close, a short and simple prayer for God to transform our lives, and it's Leeland's best example of corporate worship to date with accessible lyrics and a soaring melody. "Thief in the Night" works almost as well, effectively using end-times language in a worshipful context. Strangely, that song is followed by the worshipful "May Our Praise," which has an identical grandiose Brit pop feel.

Therein lays one of the problems with Opposite Way. Though very well done throughout, it's all rather predictable in its Brit pop sensibilities. There are no musical surprises, and the tendency to rely on the ballads for big soaring choruses gets a little old by album's end. Opposite Way could have used more punch, letting loose with a few heavier rock songs to spice things up; the few rockers on this album sound much too similar to each other. This is largely a very mid-tempo effort that rarely shifts gears, with the Travis-like shuffle "Beginning and the End" standing out mostly because it's so different from the other tracks.

But then, this is unlikely to bother Leeland's ardent fans. I think producer Matt Bronleewe is on to something when he refers to the band's "innocently passionate" message and "intensely persuasive" delivery. There are some sectors in CCM that feel the industry has lost its way from the simpler, more straightforward faith exhibited by classic Christian rock bands. Leeland has a similar feel—a gospel band gone rock, relying on personalized expressions of the basic building blocks of the good news. Opposite Way lacks some of the high points found on Sound of Melodies, but it also offers more of the same done better, and inspirational and easy enough to digest.

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